One Ringy Dingy.

I love legacy technology. Youtube suggested I watch this video about AT&T operators in 1969. My mom was a telephone operator for New York Telephone for a little while in the mid 1960s; I wonder if her job was as colorful as what was depicted in this video.

Shopping.

Courtesy of the IBM archives.

Back in the day one of the things I enjoyed about Christmas shopping was seeing which stores were using what technology at the checkouts. It was really the highlight of my shopping experience on the day after Thanksgiving. This was long before it was called “Black Friday”. I remember people thinking Zayre Department Stores had gone crazy because they were open 24 hours in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Notice how pleasant everyone is in the picture above. I’m sure in the madness of today’s Black Friday someone, somewhere was punched in the face. It might have been over an Instant-Pot, a television, or a cheap, knockoff tablet, but I’m sure the police were called more than once.

I didn’t bother following the mayhem on Twitter today. I was too busy working.

I’m not particularly a fan of the shopping experience, especially since technology has become so boring. I know it’s nearly magic that I can order everything I want without leaving the home, and that’s all due to technology, but I what I would give to see a cashier punch some numbers and the price and to be pleasant about it again.

3 Comments

Platform.

In 2009 I hosted a Windows 7 Launch Party. It was a fully sanctioned, fully supplied by Microsoft Windows 7 Launch Party. I received two copies of Windows 7 Ultimate Edition: one for a giveaway and one for myself. I had party favors and a list of suggested games and feature demonstrations. I watched the Pre-Launch Video designed to prep us for the merriment, and which has also been parodied all over the Internet over the past decade. I played honest and true geek.

In 2009 I was all in on Windows 7, and that was even after being part of the testing team for the preceding Windows Vista fiasco. I had Windows 7 installed on my MacBook Pro at the time. For the most part I really liked the platform and user experience.

When the iPhone, and later the iPad, came out I went all in on Apple products; the integration was just easier to manage. After writing code and doing network things all day long (and through long hours of on-call nights), I wanted a home setup that just worked. Microsoft products still needed fiddling, Linux required a LOT of time and energy that I just did not have, and Apple made promises of It Just Works. For the most part, it did.

As a geek I’m happiest when I’m all in on one computing platform. The OCD side of my brain has a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of using Microsoft Word on Mac OS or the Google Chrome browser on my iPad. Storing my files on Dropbox and then working to sync everything together to work with dissimilar operating systems just runs contrary to the way my brain thinks.

But being all in on one platform in 2019 is really not feasible.

Over the past several months I’ve tried to make all of our home automation magic run on Apple’s HomeKit. We can yell into the air, “Hey Siri, turn on the lights in the dining room”, and Siri will do it around 65% of the time.

“Hey Siri, turn on the lights in the dining room”. Three of the four lights come on.

“Hey Siri, turn off the lights in the dining room”. All the lights go out.

“Hey Siri, turn on the dining room lights”. All the lights come on. We then enjoy a nice meal.

“Hey Siri, turn off the dining room lights”. Siri replies, “I don’t know how to help you with that.”

“Hey Siri, turn off the dining room lights”. One light goes off.

“Hey Siri, turn off the lights in the dining room”. The lights in my office come on and then a HomePod starts playing profanity-laden rap music. I suppose it’s Siri’s way of tell me to f*&k off.

Needless to say, Siri and her HomeKit are not reliable. Not even close. Luckily, I still have a couple of Google Home Minis so I fired them up, waved to KellyAnne Conway through her microwave, and asked Google to do some home automation magic.

Google Home did everything it was told to do and probably told the NSA, CIA, and the FBI about it, but by God the lights in the dining room were finally off.

In 2019 I can’t be all in on Apple. It doesn’t “just work” anymore and iOS 13’s release has been a disaster. I remarked on Twitter today that the IMAP protocol used to handle email has been around for a couple of decades but Apple has somehow figured out a way to break it for the iPhone and iPad. I can no longer reliably fetch email on my iPhone, even though it’s been fine on this exact phone for two years prior to iOS 13. Folks online suggest wiping the phone out and starting over.

That hearkens back to the days of reinstalling Windows 98 every other week. It’s like iOS 13 is the Millennium Edition of Apple software.

Because my mind works best in “computing canisters”, I’m making a private list to define what constitutes my computing ecosystem. I’m still working out the particulars. The family is all on iMessage and FaceTime, so that’s not going anywhere. Over the past year I’ve paid for subscriptions to iCloud Drive (again with the 80% reliability rate), Dropbox (plenty o’ security holes, enough to resemble Swiss cheese), and Google Drive (works natively on everything but Linux and will prolly guarantee my pictures ending up on a billboard someday). These three will be narrowed down to one by the end of the year. I’m leaning toward the billboard risk. I’m using my existing hardware, tying it together with some of the Google sauce (still waving to KellyAnne through the microwave!), and hoping for the best. Once I have my methods documented I’ll feel more comfortable about this whole arrangement and I guess I’ll just have to apologize to Steve during my next prayer session.

As the 21st century progressed technology was suppose to become more reliable, safer, and cheaper. Yet mediocrity is the name of the software game, people are losing millions to scams, everyone lives their life on horrid social media platforms, and it’s becoming common place to spend over $1K on a cell phone. Expectations are so low that folks are pleased when their phone lasts for a year. Imagine swapping out your rotary wall phone in avocado green every year.

Madness? You betcha.

I’d love to hear where others are living in the computing ecosystem game. Are you all in on one platform? Do you mix and match? Are you a little Jamesway and a little bit Bradlees?

There’s a McDonalds at nearby Woodfield Mall that has a mix of cash registers made by Panasonic, NCR, PAR, and IBM. The dated, dissimilar systems work together in harmony. As a retail computer geek this absolutely fascinates me.

Perhaps they have the right idea.

Bliss.

Even though I’m an Apple guy, I’m not afraid to admit that one of my favorite desktop backgrounds, or wallpapers, of all time is the “Bliss” wallpaper from Windows XP. A couple years after the release of that iconic version of Windows, an updated version of the Bliss wallpaper was released with some of the newer themes that were available at the time. This wallpaper then took top spot of my favorites.

Bill Gates once said “Bliss” was inspired by that feeling you get lying in the grass watching the clouds go by. I totally feel that when I see this wallpaper.

Another multimedia feature I’ve always enjoyed was the startup sounds from the pre-release version of Windows Vista, called Longhorn. It’s a shame this sound never made it to the finished product; I always thought it had a wonderful, soothing sound to it instead of the tinkles they settled on for the official release.

I use Windows 10 at work and it makes more bonks and boings than I care to think about. I keep the sound turned down on my speakers because the various warning noises break my concentration.

I guess I need more bliss.

Simplicity.

Image found on Flickr.

Earl and I recently went to a “fast casual” restaurant. You know the type: you order and pay at the counter, they give you a little number to put in a stand on a table you find the dining room, and someone cheerfully brings you out your meal. It works simply.

I’ve mentioned before that I find today’s Point of Sale software to be quite boring. Software developers are embracing the touchpad/tablet interface for anything to do with retail and many of these fast casual (and their fast food counterpart) establishments have glorified iPads attached to a cash drawer and printer on the counter. Even those that go with traditionally branded equipment by the likes of NCR or Toshiba are using personal computers with touch interfaces.

Our orders were simple: a sandwich, a side salad, and a drink. Including our choice of dressing, one would think there were be maybe five “touches” on the touchscreen involved: the sandwich type, the salad, the dressing, and maybe two for the drink, “Large” and “fountain drink”. The counter person should then hit total, the payment type, and call it a day.

The cashier spent minutes poking, prodding, and stabbing at the touch screen. From the light being cast back on her face I could tell she was flipping through menus, searching for various combinations of items, and typing words like RANCH. Let’s not get into the drama of figuring out how to swipe a credit card that doesn’t have numbers imprinted on the face of it.

Simple is better. I’ve been saying this for years. Back when electronic technology was coming to the forefront of retail, electronic cash registers in restaurants were designed one of two ways: 1. write the order down on a pad and add it up on the cash register or 2. there was a button per item type and the cashier simply had to hit the appropriate buttons. OK, admittedly I was in several Burger King restaurants where the cashiers filled in spots on a plastic card with a grease pencil and fed the card into the cash register like our Iowa Test Forms back in elementary school, but that trend didn’t last for very long.

The simplicity of these ordering systems kept the lines moving quickly. Cashiers didn’t look perplexed. They took your order and went about the other business involved with filling the request. There was no flipping through menus, crazy amounts of touches required on a screen, or typing of the word RANCH.

Today I moved from an elaborate Task Management system to something I wrote myself that runs on a “green screen”, or a terminal emulator from a command prompt on any computer of my choice. My iOS devices sync with it just fine and I am already feeling more productive and less bogged down because there’s no pushing and prodding and flipping through menus.

$ todo add “This is my example task due:2019-11-06”

Done. I couldn’t be happier about this approach.

iPads and their related tablet interfaces are way too small for counter service at a restaurant. If you can’t fit the majority of your menu on the first screen you’re doing it wrong. One of the things I love about Disney (and I love all things Disney) is ordering food at their quick service restaurants, lines move quickly because the software written in the mid 2000s works fine and is not convoluted. They’re also using actual cash registers.

I’m hoping for a day when software developers remember that simplicity is the key. It’s not about pretty interfaces and pictures and colorful buttons. It’s about getting the job done.

Keep it simple.

Mechanical.

Our condo for this trip is in The Paddock at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Spa and Resort. The Paddock was built in the mid 2000s and is up for refurbishment over the next year or so. Because of the impending improvements, this will probably be our last opportunity to use one of these:

We enjoy having a washer and dryer available in the condo because we pack half the clothes we need and do laundry every night. We go home with clean clothes. This reduces the stress of going home after vacation.

The original-to-the-condo washer and dryers are marked as a “Quality GE Product”. The washer is a traditional washer that fills up with water, with an agitator up the middle. It fills, washes, spins, fills, rinses, spins and calls it a day. This design washed clothes for decades but has given way to more efficient designs. Newer washers spritz some water on the clothes, thump them around while making cricket noises, spin, spritz, and spin again. The new design is suppose to be eco-friendly but I never feel like our clothes are clean with these energy efficient washers.

One of the things I love about this old school washer and dryer is that it has mechanical controls. Push the knob in, click click click to your cycle choice and pull the knob to start. We did it thousands upon thousands of times when I was growing up. Pulling that knob and having the water start was always so cool. Pressing “Start” on the new fangled washing machines to start the spritzing just isn’t the same.

Mechanical controls are also much more reliable. There’s no need to “reboot” the washer or dryer. The motor turns the knob, the relays click at their appropriate times and the washing machine does what it’s suppose to do.

With the refurbishment of the condos here at Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa, they’re replacing all the appliances. The new washer/dryer combination units are made by Whirlpool and they are all electronic with the cricket noises during operation.

This means the mechanical controls found on the condo dishwasher are also going away.

Interestingly, GE owns up to the manufacturing of the dishwasher, but the washer/dryer combo unit apparently isn’t worthy of the GE logo.

Nowadays the GE logo has been leased out to a company called Haier, as GE no longer makes appliances. I’m pretty sure the appliances we had in the house before we moved to Chicago were actually made by Frigidaire but branded with the GE logo. Parts could be exchanged between Frigidaire, GE, Westinghouse, and Kenmore appliances. Geeks online called them FriGEmore appliances.

I’m all for technology doing great things for us, but not for the sake of making things cheaper and the lessening of the user experience. The appliances in this condo are well over a decade old and have been used by countless different guests and families and they’re still going just fine.

We need GE to bring good things to life again.

Data Geek.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Since my first visit to Walt Disney World in 1997 I have been fascinated with their use of technology. When Earl and I were first here back then, I promptly noticed Disney was using a modified version of the IBM 4680 General Sales Application for their retail needs. At the time they were using IBM 4695 touchscreens in the food outlets, running software I was unfamiliar with.

If you look in older stores at WDW, you’ll notice holes in the counter that used to accommodate the customer display as pictured above.

With each visit to Walt Disney World I’ve noticed evolutionary steps in their use of technology. Point of sale systems were upgraded. The food service program I noticed at the first visit (MATRA) was then used throughout the entire property. IBM 4695s gave way to NCR touchscreen terminals. iPods started making an appearance as another point of sale device. RFID capable credit-card sized tickets were introduced. Then they were capable of unlocking our resort/hotel door. The cards gave way to Magic Bands, which can be used for tickets to the park, charges to the room, unlocking doors, identifying who you are for photo opportunities; the list goes on.

Tonight I noticed several of the Disney establishments are upgrading their point of sale terminals again. The size of an iPad, it looks like they’re still running MATRA but they take up half the space of the preceding terminal. The customer information display is bigger and brighter.

When we check into a FastPass+ attraction, the cast member monitoring entrance activities has the opportunity to say, “Hello, John!”, as my name appears on their screen.

Technology is awesome when it’s used responsibly and enhances our real life experiences. Having a Disney Cast Member take our photo and have it appear in our Disney Parks Photo Stream on our phone 10 minutes later is awesome.

Technology has come a long way since Walt Disney World opened in 1971, apparently using Sweda Model 46 cash registers, as evidenced by this receipt I found online.

Interaction.

I brought my iPad Pro along on my little walk and blogging adventure today because it’s light and easy to transport. I enjoy my iPad Pro very much and I enjoy using it.

But I don’t believe it’s ever going to be a laptop replacement.

Even with iPadOS and all the desktop-like functionality Apple has baked into the iPad experience, as power user it still feels a little too “locked in” to a specified experience. Even though Safari is now suppose to provide a desktop-like experience, there are still some sites that don’t work properly, and overall it doesn’t feel quite there. It’s closer. It’s much closer, and I would be comfortable taking my iPad Pro as my primary computer on vacation. I can do everything the casual user needs to do with their computer. All social media is there, web browsing is 98% there, email is accessible. I can edit documents and organize and share photos and do all that.

But it still feels restricted.

I liken the feeling to when Microsoft started embracing the Internet and bolted networking on top of the existing Windows experience. It felt slightly messy and a little bit like someone was trying to shove an oval shape into a round hole. Not quite there but close. The iPad Pro experience still feels that way to me.

As I said, it’s much better than it was, but it’s not quite there for a tech geek like me.

Maybe Steve Jobs had it right with the whole “consumption device” approach back when it was announced. On the other hand, my I’m not the target audience. I know my Mom seems delighted with her iPad. Her Facebook activity indicates she’s having a good time with it.

Perhaps that’s all that’s important.